(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
The Colony, Pacific Palisades, California…Feburary 18, 2005...8am
Morning was Jack’s favorite time of day, especially surfside at his small bungalow in one of Southern California’s more exclusive beach front locales. The great and the near great hid out in this community of convenient anonymity seeking to be noticed and unnoticed simultaneously. If that seems odd it's only because it is, but such is the lifestyle afforded celebrities. If you were to stroll through this neighborhood and wade through the gaggle of bodyguards, nannies, paparazzi, and publicists you might actually catch a glimpse of someone famous or at least noteworthy. Jackson Peck was one of the noteworthy residents related to someone famous.
The only child of Killeen and Sanford Peck, California’s wealthiest couple to date, had chosen a more bohemian lifestyle over the limelight that his parents enjoyed as they jet around the world from home to home with the changing seasons. He was in fact a brilliant engineer, actually quite well known in his field of expertise, electronic circuit design, specializing in defensive countermeasures for the United States Navy. He'd been recruited before graduation from MIT by Hughes Telecommunications and Space, but jumped ship early and settled with General Dynamics to help redesign the Navy, preparing them for 21st century warfare. It was quite an accomplishment for the twenty year-old genius but was completely unimpressive in the eyes of his father, Sanford, who could not forgive him for refusing his birthright as heir apparent to the family firm. Succession was expected of him, but Jack was a rebel, it was in his blood courtesy his Granddad, Grover and Sanford despised him for that. The feeling was mutual.
The flagship of the Peck family fortune was "Standard Pharmaceutical," and with its sister company "Citizen's Insurance" Sanford Peck had built an empire conservatively estimated at 450 billion dollars. Now, with their latest investment, a string of HMOs stretching coast to coast, that figure was poised to increase exponentially on the diminishing health of a nation full of aging baby-boomers. Initially Peck's empire had been bankrolled by old money from Killeen’s family. Sanford had married well; his statuesque bride being the former Killeen Gateway, sole heiress to publishing legend Grover Gateway of San Francisco.
Not since Randolph Hearst had anyone controlled so much of the flow of information in the world. Even Rupert Murdoch paled in comparison. The Gateway Empire stretched around the globe in every form of print as well as electronically via his popular search engine, WeeGee. You've heard the tune I'm sure, it's as recognizable as yaaaaahoooo! Their slogans on the airwaves via radio, and television, and even on those annoying little commercial trailers that run before every motion picture these days, you flat out could not escape being exposed to it, "Can't find it? WeeGee it!"
Grover Alexander Gateway was old school, a man’s man, a true maverick, quintessentially self made by any standard. And in true old school fashion he'd been a staunch eight days a week workaholic his entire career, letting his ambitions take precedent over every aspect of his life including his family, a condition actually that all males suffer from instinctively. Escaping that mold requires a level of sensitivity that we're taught to ignore as weakness when growing up. Those who learn to suppress those weak tendencies best are typically the over achievers like Gateway. And as a result they tend to confuse providence for love. They learn too late that because of its nonnegotiable limits, the most valuable commodity in life is time. And the harsh reality that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow is hidden until it hits them where they live. By then it's too late to retrieve once in a lifetime moments, like your child's first step, first homerun, first kiss, or first heartbreak. They've wasted precious time accumulating things and disregarding priceless wealth, the family they've set aside for loftier goals. It's a matter of priorities really. Grover Gateway was ashamed that his great success had come at so high a cost.
His Granddaughter Killeen's parents had been killed tragically in a plane crash when she was but two years of age. Her mother Eileen, Grover's only child had married late in life. Against his strong urgings she had married a younger man whose only ambition seemed to be thrill seeking, his addiction to that folly taking both of their lives. He had a passion for aviation and fancied himself a pioneer of sorts. A trained pilot he'd taken Eileen for a joy ride one afternoon testing an experimental turboprop that he'd invested a fair amount of her money in. In an instant they were gone and Grover was faced with assuming responsibility for Killeen's care and future. It was an opportunity he welcomed.
It was a decision he never regretted, in fact, if asked he'd declare it divine intervention. Divinity was a new concept for him, his new faith inspired a few years back by a gifted little girl from Central California, but that's another story entirely. Killeen came into his life at exactly the right moment. And in the years that followed the two became peas in a pod. He was the only parent she could remember, and she was his second chance at fatherhood, a chance to make up for the sins of his youth. He resolved to make peace with his daughter's memory through his granddaughter's life. He would love Killeen the way he should have loved Eileen. Love was a concept that didn't come naturally to him. His wife Sara, God rest her soul, was the loving type, sweet, sensitive and genuine. But she died in childbirth and left Grover with a child he was unprepared to care for.
So, he raised her the only way he knew how to, with the same iron fisted will that his father had raised him with. In the end it only taught her to be mean, vindictive, and shallow. Once, Eileen brought home a young man who seemed to understand this love thing, but Grover insisted she turn him away. He saw his sensitive nature as weakness. And in that single act he poisoned the well for her, setting in motion the circumstances that would inspire her to choose someone more like himself. That had been a colossal error in judgment and it cost Eileen a chance at real happiness and consequently her life. He vowed that would never happen to his granddaughter.
When Killeen announced out of the clear blue sky that she'd fallen in love and was marrying Sanford Peck, an ambitious man of some means, Grover expressed his reservations. He knew that her fiancé would eventually capitalize on his affection for his granddaughter. And once they were married Grover allowed her to bankroll his business ventures, after all he could refuse her nothing. But Sanford Peck surprised him, turning out to be a clever, shrewd and talented businessman, even brilliant to a point. So Grover put aside his early reservations as he knew that Killeen was too smart to be taken advantage of for very long. Besides, if the bastard ever posed a real threat, well, being a man of the world Grover knew there were always solutions for unpleasant occurrences. He set his mind and conscience at ease and adopted a page from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, pledging himself to "be a happy pessimist and risk only pleasant surprise."
This was Jackson Peck's gene pool, rife with intelligence, over-drive, over-confidence, and over-indulgence. He'd grown up in an environment of privilege and high expectations. He may never have wanted for anything, but everything he was given came with conditions. There was no such thing as a free ride in the Peck family. “Money doesn’t grow on trees young man…Do you know how lucky you are Jackson…Guns and butter my boy, remember there's a difference between what you need and what you want…” All of those euphemisms and metaphors molded Jack into the social misfit and malcontent that he was. He suffered from terminal intellect, and a raging case of social conscience which put him at odds with his opportunistic father from the time he resolved to think for himself and distinguish between right and wrong by his own definition and not dad's policy of shades of gray.
Theirs was a tumultuous relationship at best, and his mother had done little to intercede. She was busy helping her husband to build his empire, busy being a proper wife and socialite rather than a proper mother. How Jack coveted the simple soccer moms who raised his normal friends. He was bitter about never learning to catch, throw, or hit a baseball. He was bitter that Mom and Dad had so little time for him. They were terrific providers, they just sucked as parents. He'd been left in the care of a cavalcade of nannies and governesses.
Only Great Grandfather Gateway seemed to make time for him, and those were good times, Jack wished there had been more of them. But for reasons unknown his parents were uncomfortable sharing him with the grand old man. Of course living in New York City at the time may have had something to do with it as well. It wasn't worth pondering though, what's done is done. And contrary to what his analyst believed, as far as Jack was concerned, stirring up the past only made the analyst feel better. When it came to choosing between being right and doing right, he aimed for the high road most of the time.
Jack poured himself another cup of coffee and walked out onto the deck off the small master bedroom. He settled into a white Adirondack chair near the glass wind breaker and let the stiff ocean breeze massage his face while the sound of the crashing surf cleared his mind. This was where he did his best thinking. He sipped at his coffee and reached for a brown accordion folder on the short wooden table beside him. He unfastened the elastic band and removed the contents. There were four items inside, a two page hand written letter, a 5X7 black and white photograph, a colorful cruise line brochure that Jack recognized, and the latest edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships. He looked at the photograph first, studying it carefully. He'd read the letter once already, but read it again to get a better understanding of the relationship between the words and the photograph.
Jack stared intensely at the family in the photo, the two young parents and the happy little boy playing in the sand at their feet. It was obviously happier times considering what he'd read earlier. He wondered for a moment what it must be like to be a parent. It wasn't as if he had a great set of role models to draw from. He had no memory of ever being as happy as the kid in the photo seemed to be. Jack stuffed the photo between the pages of the thick Jane’s book and started to read the letter again. It was from a kid that he had tutored at Cal Tech a few years ago while working on his Doctorate on General Dynamic's nickel. The kid was a computer geek named Randy Patel who actually rivaled his own intellect which was why Jack hadn't pitched the folder when he found it on the hood of his Jaguar convertible.
Jack paused for a moment and smiled, recalling the circumstances that had brought the two of them together. It was a harmless campus intrigue, blown way out of proportion by a hyper sensitive administration embarrassed by their shameful lack of cyber security. Someone (Randy) had hacked into the school’s computer system and infected the University’s Admin database with a mild virus involving a rather tasteless photo, obviously doctored, that appeared on the screen of every computer station at the school. Jack was asked to lead the search for the culprit(s) responsible for Dean Harrell’s humiliation. Actually, Jack didn’t think the picture was all that bad, it fact, it could have been considered rather flattering if you thought about it. But whoever spread the photo of a fully aroused Dean Harrell standing beside a well known actress during the National Anthem at a pep rally had to be found and had to be punished, no matter how funny it was!
Jack located the lone perpetrator easily enough, having traced the origin of the virus to a computer station in the IT lab assigned to Randolph Pinter Patel. The dumbass had been smart enough to hack into the school’s computer system, but either too stupid or too arrogant to coverer his tracks. Just proves the old adage that great intelligence is often times devoid of common sense. In any event, Jack busted the nerd early on a Monday while he slept through a Poly-Sci lecture. The school insisted on making an example of the hapless prankster and so Jack had the campus police escort Randy Patel from class in cuffs. It was an over-kill but then that was the point. However, by then the kid had become somewhat of a campus celebrity and so to avoid trouble the school softened their position, they had no desire to create a martyr. Actually, Jack suggested that the faculty/student council take advantage of the kid's obvious skills and offer him a job in the IT Department, maybe as the assistant chief of security, sort of give him a chance to use his genius for good instead of evil. He was kidding of course, and was flabbergasted when he found out later that they had actually taken him seriously and hired the Patel kid, incredible!
Jack picked up the letter one more time and re-read the part describing the circumstances surrounding the death of the child in the photograph, his name was Gabriel. He zeroed in on the name of the HMO facility where he died, reading it aloud, LA General Hospital & Trauma Center, a division of Peck International. His lips moved methodically as he read each syllable while his fingers traced each word. A wicked grin spread across his face. Of course he would help these people, why not. This was a golden opportunity. Taking his shit bird father down a notch would be sweet, and the notion excited him. This was personal on two levels, theirs and his. Both parties were motivated by vengeance, and both parties considered themselves righteous in the right light. That's how Jackson Peck chose to see it anyway. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket he dialed the number at the bottom of the second handwritten page. He wondered what Randy and his friends had in mind. It didn't matter; whatever it was he was in!